Some plants provide winter interest with berries

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By Jeneen Wiche

This December has been a cold one thus far.   I don’t mind a gloomy day here or there, I actually find them some what restorative.  Too many in a row, though, can be sort of depressing. 

We all say we want winter interest, but sometimes we forget about it once spring rolls around and we get excited about a new season.

Have you selected things that will capture your eye in January?  Look out the window and tell yourself what you see and then take some notes.

 What window do you gaze out the most and where, in that view, would a colorful tree or shrub make the most difference?

Now, consider planting something with the best winter interest there is:  berries.  Berries come in all sorts of colors; and they will bring in wildlife to enjoy, as well.

From where I sit, I can look out the window and see a line of colorful crabapples decorated with burgundy, red, orange and yellow berries.  A red papa Cardinal stands out against the gray sky and enjoys a meal.

 This view brightens any dull winter mood.  At night the deer come in and clean up the fallen berries off the ground (which I enjoy as long as they don’t destroy other things!).

 I have a love-hate relationship with crabapples because they send up so many water sprouts (suckers from the roots and along branches), but when they bloom in the spring and provide berry color in the winter, they are redeemed.

On the north side of the house, the Nandinas steal the show.  Nandinas are under appreciated, I think.

The common name “heavenly bamboo” suggests the nature of the stems and foliage but reveals little about the brilliant red panicles that top the shrub this time of the year.  Clusters of red berries against the bamboo-like (and evergreen) foliage provide great winter interest.   Each year I appreciate the landscape value of this plant a little more.

The American hollies in the corner of the yardhave a similar effect.  Their pyramidal shape and imposing stature just puts you in the holiday spirit.

The deep green, glossy foliage is the perfect canvas for an array of colorful berries.  American holly cultivars come in red, orange and gold, so you can add a mix of colors to the landscape.

Be mindful, however, that female hollies provide the berries, and a male must to be in the vicinity to pollinate the females. So there will always be one in the mix that doesn’t provide a winter show – but know the important role he plays for those who do!

The deciduous hollies are situated in a mass planting in front of an evergreen backdrop.  These hollies are rather nondescript during the growing season: small green leaves flag the twiggy clump of stems.

But once the leaves drop, the show begins because we are left with a twiggy clump covered in berries, literally, from top to bottom.

The berries of the deciduous holly persist through the winter the longest.  Birds do not start to enjoy a meal until late winter so we get the show a bit longer.

These, too, are male and female.  Some bloom early, mid and late season, so select varieties accordingly so you have a male and female that compliment each other. 


The nice thing about all of these plants is that they can be pruned a bit this time of the year.

 I have made some festive planters by simply sticking cuttings of holly, nandina and evergreen trimmings in the soil that once sustained summer annuals.

You don’t need to buy a plant just make your own out of winter trimmings from the garden.